A Thinkpiece About Bits (Not a Bit)

By

A bit is a joke, usually amongst a select group of people, played with some sincerity. A bit is a comedic take on a reality. An imaginary spin amongst individuals with a repetitive game between them. Bits can take a level of intelligence and quick thinking. They can be good and they can be bad. They can be used as a form of communication.

We start doing bits when we’re babies. I put a blanket over my niece’s head and say “Oh no, where’s Simone?” and she takes it off and cheeses a big smile and claps her hands and we do it over and over again. It’s a running bit we have that this blanket is making her magically disappear. So fun. People who keep doing these bits when they become adults are people who aren’t ready to give up on that sense of play.

When I came to New York City and became a part of the comedy community, I realized there was a much larger hive of people whose main form of communication was through bits. To me, the essence of a bit has deep implications about one’s outlook on the world. It’s part nihilistic and part optimistic. It’s saying none of this really means anything so why don’t we let our imaginations entangle and see the world for what it is: a hysterical, cruel joke. I had found these like-minded people who were fast and constantly joking, something I’d been looking for and didn’t even realize it. Though most my friendships had been rooted in a shared sense of humor, the NYC comedy community was some next level shit.

From an outsider’s perspective, comedians having a casual bit conversation can be both jarring and bewildering. Recently, I was talking with some comedian friends at the bar at Upright Citizen’s Brigade East. Mike from Two Boots Pizza, a non-comedian, was also there. I caught his reaction when he saw that we had been speaking for five minutes without a sincere word coming out of our mouths. Our conversation was something like:

“What kind of wine is that?”

“Future wine. From the year 2020.”

“Oh, the one robots make?”

“Yeah, the guy who imports it has a time machine. Too bad the damn thing broke.”

“Yeah, heard his next stop was going to be to the past to kill Hitler.”

“Yup, too bad. Good wine though.”

Dumb. So dumb. But Mike was impressed at our quick wit and found it funny. I think. He was certainly shaking his head. I’ve had other non-comedian friends spend a night with my comedian friends only to have them say the next day, “What the hell were you guys talking about all night?”

Even if you’re the type of person who loves a good bit, it doesn’t mean bits are always welcome. Anyone who works in a comedy club or in the service industry can tell you that. When a person who works in finance by day, for example, goes out on the weekend, ready to show off their comedic prowess, the victims are those who have to deal with them as a customer. “I’m going to show these comedians, I can be funny too” or “Let me impress my date with a hilarious joke to our waiter.” When these folks, who you don’t know or share a sense of humor with, try doing a bit with you, it feels like a stranger trying to kiss you. Don’t kiss me with your dumb bit, bro.

Bits aren’t just for comedians, though. You can find great people to do bits with in your everyday life. Some of the best bits I’ve ever been a part of have been with the Hispanic employees in various restaurant jobs I’ve had. Though there was a language barrier, we always found a way to communicate through bits. The sense of humor, while often times filthy, was always silly, good-natured and hysterical.

“Tus calzoncillos estan sucio porque te tiraste un pedo mojado” Translation: “Your underwear are dirty because you ripped a wet fart.” I was able to piece together this little gem of a sentence using the limited Spanish I spoke. Hitting the salad cook with this jab would make the pizza guy laugh hard enough that he’d then hook me up with a personal pepperoni pie.

Bits in office environments can be trickier. They usually have something called an “HR department.” When you find your bit buddy in an office, you cling on for dear life. My first office job out of college was at a finance company. I had to seek out these likeminded friends and I needed a plan. Everyone got a 15 minute break and so I passed around a memo letting people know I would be holding Cubicle 54, a Studio 54 style party in my cubicle from 10:30-10:45. I brought in fake champagne and O.J. for mimosas, as well as a boom box and had a 3 minute dance contest, with scratch off lottery tickets as the prize. The select turnout of people who came out for Cubicle 54, and participated in the dance contest (the girl who won did the “perculator”), I knew were my safe space of people I could trust to continue to do bits with.

Timing is crucial with bits. An ill-timed joke can often derail a sincere conversation. It’s a fine line. Sometimes comedians will try to make a stance or open up a conversation amongst friends about an important issue such as gender equality or race. The detached sense of irony that comes along with being a comedian can lead to an inability to ever be sincere or say a true feeling. If you’re friends with any comedians on Facebook you may have noticed this.

Use bits to make life fun. Email threads, group texts, Facebook comments can all be made palatable through comedy. Don’t try to kiss people you don’t know with your bits. Worse comes to worse just put a blanket over your head and pretend to disappear. Never fails.

Austin Rodrigues is a writer and performer living in New York City. He hosts B.Y.O.T. at the UCB East Theatre, and is a member of the Maude Team, Nipsey.